Female Disruptors: Stephanie Lindley is making tiny cookies that pack a big punch.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Lindley, CEO of Byrd Cookie Company.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m the CEO and fourth-generation owner of Byrd Cookie Company, which was originally founded by my great-grandfather, Benjamin Tillman Byrd Sr., in 1924.
Over the years, we’ve grown Byrd Cookie Company from a regional cookie bakery to a national leader in the specialty food industry. We’ve developed exciting new flavors, including the award-winning Key Lime Cooler, and forged strategic partnerships with Delta Airlines, Universal Studios, Neiman Marcus, Dylan’s Candy Bar and Williams-Sonoma, positioning Byrd as a leading gourmet cookie brand with strong annual sales and successful retail stores in Georgia and South Carolina.
Why did you found your company?
I began my career at the age of 19, learning the cookie business from my grandfather, BT Byrd Jr. The lessons learned from previous generations have driven me to dramatically expand the company, but with a deep respect for the hand-crafted traditions that define the Byrd legacy.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We love making the world a little sweeter, one cookie at a time. We’re focused on meeting the increased demand for cookies while exceeding sales objectives for retail stores, wholesale manufacturing and contract baking. In recent years, we have secured major baking contracts with Trader Joe’s, United Airlines, Dollar Tree and Target, repositioning the company as an international large-volume cookie manufacturer. We love baking tiny cookies with big flavor and are proud we’re making such a major impact in the gourmet food industry.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
Both of my parents have been huge influences on my business life.
My mother is a very organized, highly productive person as well as a terrific hostess who never complained when my sister and I would show up with too many unannounced friends for dinner.
I’m also grateful to my father for forcing me to read business and motivational books as a child when I’d broken a house rule or curfew. I think he still has a few of the book reports he made me write to prove I had read the book. In hindsight, it was the best punishment ever!
There are also a number of successful entrepreneurs who have influenced the person I am today. Parker’s President and CEO Greg Parker, a close friend and successful business owner, is someone I call often. Having someone you trust who knows you well to bounce ideas off of and to help problem-solve is a terrific advantage in business. No one has all the answers, so it’s important to have a strong inner circle of mentors and friends you can turn to when you need help.
How are you going to shake things up next?
We recently completed a $6 million expansion at Byrd’s production facility in Savannah, Georgia, including the addition of a new state-of-the-art industrial baking line that allows us to bake more than one billion cookies annually to keep pace with growing demand.
A second expansion, scheduled for 2020, will support $100 million in annual revenue by 2025. Plus, we’re always experimenting with new flavors and developing creative new gift ideas. We’re excited about the future!
Can you share the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
- You don’t have to act on every opportunity. Just because you have a great opportunity doesn’t mean it’s the right option for you. It’s o.k. to pass on an idea or opportunity if it’s not the right fit or the right timing.
- “There’s no elevator to success. Everyone takes the stairs.” So many people today think success should be easy and come fast. Regardless of outward appearances, every success story in business is, in fact, the result of a lot of time, thought and hard work. There are no shortcuts to success.
- Take your time to make important decisions. I asked one of my most successful business friends what he wishes he’d known earlier in his career. He told me that every problem or situation doesn’t require an answer today. Sometimes it’s best to take a day or two to think about the right answer or the best solution. Other times, a difficult situation can actually resolve itself, if you give it time. Some of my best decisions involved not making a decision at all.
- “The gardener’s footsteps are the best fertilizer you can find — and it’s free.” Homer Peeples gave me this advice when I first moved to Savannah to learn how to run Byrd Cookie Company. I was 19 and inexperienced in manufacturing. His advice to get out on the production floor with the team as often as possible was invaluable and stuck with me over 30 years.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
I loved reading Political Risk by Condoleezza Rice and Amy Zegart, which opened my thinking about how almost every world event or domestic cultural shift can quickly expose a company to a negative revenue impact that’s outside of your control.
Knowing your blind side, understanding global insecurity and being prepared in advance on various fronts could be what saves a company in a crisis. It’s a highly strategic book that’s thought-provoking for business owners and entrepreneurs.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I’d love to spend some time with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Taking a company from zero to $400 million in less than 20 years is truly an amazing accomplishment. I’d love to have an honest conversation with Sara about the challenges she faced and what kept her up at night during some of those high-growth months.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow Byrd Cookie Company on Instagram and Twitter at @byrdcookieco and on Facebook at Facebook.com/ByrdCookieCompany